Peter's poetry collections, Country Airport and Hazard Duty, are available through Copper Beech Press, Box 2578, English Department, Providence, RI 02906, or directly from the author, via email.



Schmitt Peter Schmitt

To Disappear

“Once we have understood we are nothing,
the object of all our efforts is to become nothing.”
                                     —Simone Weil

“Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”
                                     —St. Paul

I. Waking

How many nights
did I wake alone
in your too-small bed, feet
dangling, narrow
cave of your leaving
still warm beside me,
and guess you were only
in the den, cigarette
dwindling to ash
in your chapped fingers,
poring over
a gardening catalogue
or a text on perennials—
when you were bent
above the sink,
the water softly running
(only now do I hear it)
to mask the sound,
those worst sounds to come
from your throat—
and even if I'd thought
to rise and wait
outside the door,
hoping to simply
hold you, saying
nothing, as you would have
only denied it—I didn't, I
turned, pulling my feet in,
drawing the covers tighter,
back to sleep.

II. Tattoo Parlor

Shrunken Buddha
in your familiar pose,
contemplating not your navel
but what you cannot admit
to be an absence of belly—
standing with hips canted
outward, peering down,
chin tucked almost to chest,
hands stretching,
flattening the flesh
of your abdomen—
while the piercer
kneels before you, searching
for the tiny punctures
he drilled for the first,
nearly invisible ring.
They seem to have closed,
the skin around them
tightening; much
to your pleasure.
He remembers, too,
the turtle tattoo
he set upon your back:
your favorite creature,
virtually impenetrable
shell yet tender
below, but also
everything you can't
let yourself be:
round and slow
and patient. Just now
you wish he'd hurry
and fix in place
that little umbilical loop,
where you will dab
for weeks with alcohol
until the redness fades
and the skin is taut again,
one new link of mail
in your hollow armor.

III. Portfolio

Snapshots from years
before: you, slouching
in the first row, your face
a grid of bandages—
an infection
your depleted body
could not check—
your back to the eyes
of your classmates,
which rolled each time
you entered the room
or at every one of your
improbably brilliant
remarks on a story
or poem. When the whispers
began behind you,
the heads to shake,
I wanted to hurdle
my desk and shove my fist
down every one of their throats.
Once, at my office,
for some reason out
came your portfolio:
the near-naked photos,
at somewhere below
eighty pounds, and I
could only shake my head.
But the ribs jutting
like a boat long beached,
or the arms reduced
to pulleys, or the spine
risen from the sea
of the back,
weren't what shocked me.
It was your smile,
so out of place,
so lost on your face,
so driven to please
a world just watching
you slowly erased.
You were looking over
your shoulder, the same
smile when you left
the office, that day I first
imagined the worst
was over—and the smile
you might have worn
in the middle of the night,
each time you closed,
quietly but firmly,
the bedroom door.

IV. Skin Deep

Sometimes the flesh
of your palms and soles
would crack and split
and spontaneously bleed,
even in the swamp
of summer, so devoid
were you of natural oils.
And nights, lucky
to sleep two or three
hours at a time,
you would encase
your hands and feet
in moisturizing gloves
and socks,
a self-anointment,
and explain it away
as sun-inflicted,
long hours in your garden.
Then suddenly you'd wake,
disoriented, the latex
snug over knuckles
callused from so many times
down your own throat,
your new rubber hands
were a doctor's,
or else a mortician's,
not muscle or bone
that could fail.
The faint blond
furring had spread
on your cheeks and chest,
your body so lacking
adipose insulation
you were always cold,
no matter the season.
I'd rub your feet
for what had to be an hour,
my hand dipping again
and again into the jar,
your eyes closed,
your mouth slightly open,
yet another night
that I might never stop,
as if the fissures that began
at the bottom of you ran
your whole length
and could never be sealed.

V. Mascot

One year in high school
as team mascot
you wore another skin,
leaping as a panther
at pep rallies
and football games,
losing your body
wholly inside another
a few hours every week,
and no one knew it was you.
The panther
had swallowed you up,
it was his problem now, his
the calories and pounds
to lose, his
the image in the tubas
and cymbals, he was the one
to make others laugh
and cheer.
At the end of the night
when he vomited you
back up, the panther
could hide
in your closet,
nothing but skin,
without spirit,
staring out at you
with his comforting,
vacant eyes.

VI. Retriever

When the neighbor's sweet
dumb retriever
clamped its jaws
on the fuzzy yellow
tennis ball
of the duckling,
you screamed from the window.
Then drove, one hand
working the wheel and stick,
the other at your chest,
as if swearing to an oath,
cupping the still-warm
clump of down and bone
barely stopping for lights
all the way to the vet.
I thought of your father
carrying you, below
seventy, half-
conscious, through
the electric doors
of the ER. How he wondered
if he were holding you
for the last time.
At the vet's they shook
their heads and apologized—
this one was beyond
bringing back. Through tears
you drove on to your father's,
and turned away
as with towel
and hammer he finished
what needed to be done.
In his back yard your heel
tamped the little hole,
where he hoped
one day to see your foot
and your groom's come down
upon the glass
beneath the huppah,
before you are lifted,
all curves and long legs,
laughing across the threshold.

VII. Picnic Basket

You didn't want me
in the antique shop
to buy it for you, but a look
in your eyes, the way
your hand passed over
the lid…What I didn't guess
was how in time
it became a gift for me:
as first you painted it,
then spent days
picking out the fabric
with which to line it,
cutting and sewing
the material, a green
and yellow floral pattern.
Imagine my surprise
when on my birthday
you presented it to me,
if not quite finished,
not all the folds in place—
and there it stayed,
week after week,
in a corner of the bedroom.
It may be there still.
And if today
it holds not food or drink,
the basket remains
the gift I know you imagined:
where we spread a blanket
in some beautiful spot
of reeds and water,
and eat and laugh
uninterruptedly, until,
drowsy and sated, the sun still
on us, we drift asleep,
never once stirring
from each other's arms…